By Angela Murphy
Killowen forge was located in the townland of Killowen approximately 1½ miles north-west of Blarney village, the forge was originally owned by Hannah Murphy’s family. Edmund Murphy who was better known as “Ned The Smith” came to work in the forge in 1882. He hailed from Ballydaheen in Mallow and was the son of William Murphy who was also a blacksmith and fenian. Edmund subsequently married Hannah in 1883 and had seventeen children of whom twelve survived, William, John, Maurice, Joe, Tom, Ned, Christy, Lena, Polly, Mariah, Cathy and Rita. At one time all seven sons worked in the forge with Ned taking over the running of the forge in 1940.
Edmund’s five daughters also had a role in the forge as they were given the duty of collecting money from the farmers for work done. As motor cars were non-existent and bicycles equally scarce, it meant travelling on foot to the various farms. Quite often they returned empty handed, as the farmers usually had no money until the autumn when the harvest was sold. Edmund had another daily duty for his siblings as one member was despatched daily to Blarney for a gallon of Porter which Edmund consumed over the course of the day.
Locals could distinguish which family member was working on the anvil as each person generated their own distinctive sound when hammering on the anvil. Former employees of the forge included Ger “Firelocks” Murphy and Bobby “Rooster” Murphy who served their apprenticeships in Killowen. Ger Murphy’s nickname stemmed from his ancestors who made the firelocks for the Fenian gun. Another loyal employee was Dan Healy, who also served his time in Killowen and who later purchased the forge after Ned’s passing in 1953.
Ned Murphy’s nephews (Lena’s sons) also worked in the forge, Ned Mullane was a permanent employee for many years until he took up a position as a lorry driver with C.I.E. His brothers Jerry, Johnny, Joe and Dick were also employed during school holidays and assisted when busy periods arose. John Murphy’s son, John, was the last member of the Murphy family to work with Ned in the forge, he emigrated to England and worked for an engineering firm in London for many years. He returned to Ireland following his retirement and resided in Clara, Co. Offaly until his death in 1993. His brother, Richard “Dick” Murphy also spent time working in the forge. Killowen forge was one of many in the locality, among the other working forges were Batt O’ Leary at Tower Cross, Dan O’ Donoghue at Cloghroe, Harte’s forge at Quarryhall near Grenagh and the Mullane Brothers who operated forges at Donoughmore and Sluggera Cross.
The working day commenced at 8am and lasted up to sunset especially during the busy spring and summer months. It was a six day a week with Sunday the only day of rest, holiday periods were non-existent as the only other days taken off were Christmas Day, St Patrick’s Day and Good Friday. It was said that no blacksmith would shoe a horse on Good Friday as they felt it would be sinful to drive a nail on this day. Every evening after work Hannah would ask each worker what jobs were completed during the day, she entered the description of work carried out, customers name and the actual cost in a ledger. With another working day over, Hannah would give each family member 2s 6d or 5s. Most evenings the brothers would head towards Blarney for a few well deserved pints. The licensed premises frequented were, The Castle Hotel, Corkeran’s Hotel (now the Muskerry Arms) and Meaney’s in Waterloo (now The Waterloo Inn) where a pint of porter was about 7 pence or 9 pence a pint. On Sunday’s each received one pound to spend as they wished. They also got two new suits each year, the tweed was purchased from Martin Mahony’s and tailored by Cremin the tailor in Blarney village.
While forges may have differed in size nearly all had the same requirements. The essential elements were a sufficient stock of iron, a plentiful fuel supply, usually coal and slack, for maintaining a fire over the course of a working day and the anvil, on which the blacksmith worked and shaped the various pieces of iron. The bellows was used to bring the fire up to a temperature sufficient for reddening the iron to a working consistency. Suttons Coal Merchants supplied the coal and slack used in the forge at Killowen. Iron was supplied by Robert Scott & Co, Patrick’s Quay, Cork and also from Cork Iron and Hardware, North Main Street, Cork.
A blacksmith’s usual attire was an apron made of leather or canvass. A variety of tools were used, hammers and sledges of various sizes were used for forging and shaping metal although most Smiths favoured a heavy short-handed sledge. The blacksmith was a unique craftsman in that he manufactured his own tools as well as the tools for other tradesmen. The other tools were varied and specific to their tasks of measuring, grasping, shaping, cutting and boring. There were tongs of various sizes used for handling the hot iron, a buffing wheel used for sanding and polishing, chisels and metal punches of varying sizes used for perforating the iron.
A “swage block” was also used regularly, this was a block of iron that contained holes and recesses of varying sizes that enabled the blacksmith to shape the iron consistently. A tool known as “Dogs” was used when binding cartwheels, this tool was similar to a two-pronged fork and was approximately 4 feet long and 3 inches thick. Its primary use was to lift and carry the hot metal bindings while the binding process took place. On entering the yard in Killowen there were two large stones visible, on the right was an edging stone and on the left, was a binding stone used for binding cartwheels. A roadside water pump ensured a regular water supply to the forge.
A blacksmith’s principal duty was the shoeing of horses, the size and type of shoe varied depending on the animal. A good blacksmith could forge and fit a new set of shoes on a horse in an hour. Lighter shoes were used on racehorses, hunters, ponies and donkeys whereas larger horses like the Clydesdale and Draught required a heavier shoe. Iron measuring 1 Inch by ¾ Inch was purchased in various lengths and making a heavy shoe required a piece of iron that was approximately one foot long, however lighter shoes used pieces of iron that were of smaller dimensions.
When iron was in short supply, the blacksmith resorted to using recycled materials such as wheel bands that were heated and split into the correct width. A shoe known as a “slipper” was often used in cases where a horse only required one new shoe rather than a complete set. This type of shoe was made from an older shoe that was reshaped to fit the particular hoof, the “slipper” would suffice until it was time to fit the horse with four new shoes.
The nails used in affixing the shoes varied in size and were classified by number, “sevens” and “eights” were the most commonly used. The icy conditions in wintertime required special nails to be attached to the shoes of a horse, these nails were called “frost nails” and enabled the horse to travel without losing it’s footing. A box of nails was a relatively expensive part of the outgoings for the forge and were usually purchased from Eustace & Co, Timber & Hardware Merchants, Leitrim Street, Cork.
The manufacture of a horseshoe began with the cutting of iron to the required length, the piece of iron was reddened in the fire and then bent in half. The iron was then shaped on the horn of the anvil in order to achieve a curved effect. Once the blacksmith was satisfied with the size and shape of the shoe he made the perforations for the nails. A “clip” was made on the front of the shoe and for heavier horses a “cock” was added to the rear of the shoe, this was done to minimise movement of the shoe.
The actual shoeing process began with the blacksmith placing the horses foot between his knees, his first duty was to pare the hoof with a knife. The shoe was then positioned on the hoof to check if fitting correctly, and if not, further paring was required. The hot shoe was cooled in water and then secured to the hoof by nails, the smith hammered four on one side and three on the other. The side of the shoe that faced outwards from the hoof was always secured with four nails as this part of the hoof absorbed the most pressure when the horse was in motion. Nowadays the practice of shoeing horses with hot shoes has been discontinued. All protruding nails were removed with a pincers and filed with the rasp for a neat smooth finish.
For Dray horses that frequently travelled by road, a pad was placed between the hoof and the shoe to protect the hoof from the constant exposure to the harder surface. The local farming community provided the main custom but the forge also generated business in nearby Blarney village. Killowen forge shod working horses and hunters for Martin Mahony the owner of Blarney Woollen Mills, the neighbouring Blarney Castle estate contained a large stable and also provided plenty work for the forge. Other customers included well- known horse breeders, Maurice Hallissey Garrycloyne, J.J. O’ Donoghue Courtbrack and Batt Sheehan of Dawstown whose yard included the renowned stallion “Buckfast Blend” by “Hawthorn Blend”.
The Sisters of Charity in Blarney were also loyal customers as their primary mode of transport was a pony and trap, Denis “Dinny the Nun” Lynch was a familiar sight around Blarney as he transported the Nuns on their various calls around the locality. The pony was always shod at the Killowen forge but Ned refused to charge for the job. On one occasion, as a token of their gratitude, the Convent presented Ned and family with a large picture of the Sacred Heart which was displayed in the Murphy home for many years after. In 1955, a set of new shoes on a horse would have set you back 15s. a “slipper” cost 1s.9d. By 1960 a set of new shoes cost 18s.
The above extract was taken from a much larger article written by Angela Murphy, and printed in Edition No 8 ‘Old Blarney’ Journal.